OPEDUCA-based School(ing)

the effectuation of ESD-based Education


The OPEDUCA-project and -concept deliver on the transformative promise of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) by placing it at the base of schooling. The framework composed gives meaning to ESD and makes it applicable far beyond 'ESD Competences' and a 'Whole School Approach. It positions ESD as the transformative promise of education itself, ESD's integrative quality a foundation instead of a goal.

ESD-based Education seeks to activate students studying future defining themes through critical inquiry in a regional and global setting. The themes, derived from the Dimensions of (Education for) Sustainable Development, base ongoing learning pathways throughout the formal system of schooling. Students study these themes anytime, with anybody, at any place and through any device, their school re-established as a nexus of learning processes within the social-demographic region in which the students grow up and build roots for their further development. The learning processes reach into society by ways of Flight for Knowledge with an emphasis on youngsters' capacity to turn thinking into action through BusinessClass. Each Open Educational Region (OPEDUCA) comprises the students' learning, their teachers' development and the direct contributions of Partners in Education and educational sources. All this is then continuously interlinked with regions around the world, manifesting a local-to-global learning space. 

As long as we keep students in relative close isolation in x-minute lessons, within walls that limit their freedom to move, teach them subjects as though it are separate blocks of "knowledge" and merge them with 25 others in apparently homogeneous groups, one can't expect optimal results from education. The alliance of people basing OPEDUCA took off from that insight over nearly tow decades ago, observed the cacophony of 'priorities' and 'innovators' schools are flooded with and took a stand.
As a consequence of the OPEDUCA-thinking and -acting, schools can change without being trampled on or regarded obsolete. We found that school leaders, teachers and students can see and grasp opportunities to change their school from within. This change in itself became a prerequisite to move on, to make next steps in the development towards an OPEDUCA-based School. A most challenging process for sure, one that quite some couldn't see to an end, yet there are those that pushed forward, took the barriers and will surface through their own strength. Incurring change way beyond a 'whole school approach'.

A School for the Future

An OPEDUCA-based School

Following the perspective of the individual learner and the concept of ESD-based Education, teachers developed an OPEDUCA-based based on their practical insights and experience. Like the vision and concept are a merger of educational practice, science and insights from industry, an OPEDUCA-based School emerged from a transdisciplinary insight. Over the years the schools was developed and described in ever more detail, every element successfully tested in daily practice across the Netherlands and 16 other countries. 

As long as we keep students in relative close isolation in x-minute lessons, within walls that limit their freedom to move, teach them subjects as though it are separate blocks of 'knowledge' and merge them with 25 ore more in apparently homogeneous groups, one can hardly expect optimal results from education. Those creating OPEDUCA understood and took a stand.

We will step by step introduce the outlines and working of an OPEDUCA-based School in the course of 2022, beginning by sharing the understanding we differ between Learning, Education, Schooling and the System, see the opportunity to create Open Educational Area/regions, belief in the direct and continuous participation of industry and prioritise the professionalisation of teachers towards Educators

As practice proofed, an OPEDUCA-based School can not be realised by cherry picking, aiming at low hanging fruits - like one can't jump a canyon halfway. The OPEDUCA-concept builds on essentials, ‘strips off’ present day restrictions, re-thinks values and goals, is challenging and demanding. Being entirely student- and future focussed, an OPEDUCA-based school continuously adapts and where possible improves the learning environment it facilitates.

Especially those coming from the field of ESD (Education for Sustainable Development) should understand OPEDUCA goes far beyond listing 'new' competences and a so called 'whole school approach'. Vision, concept and instrumentarium are based on learning in the interest of the student, not in service of the system in place. 

Building back from justified criticism 

Arising from the Ashes

In the years the OPEDUCA-project took off as a citizens initiative (2004-2007) we found schools, also justly, criticised and, unfairly, trampled on, ill equipped to properly defend themselves. Schools had become executors of outdated education suffering under layers of interference, preachers of innovations and waves of change - many turning themselves into richly decorated Christmas-trees to apparently keep up with expectations. Therewith also hiding school leaders' and teachers' incompetence, many finding themselves between a rock and a hard place - schools being regarded obsolete while ever more was requested of them.

Back then, and now still, the educational system presents an unconnected series of school-levels around which policies, priorities and consultancy swarms. A cacophony of 'innovators', acting as 'preachers of change' eroding schools' transition capacity as they incur ever more 'waves of change' that eventually flood the schools' shorelines and wash away own initiative. A school in OPEDUCA should be ready to face and withstand the continuous flood of educational reforms and commercially driven improvements outsiders seek to impose on them.

Not surprisingly, we found school leaders, teachers and students can see and grasp opportunities to change their school from within as they found common ground to stand on while holding on to their unique profile - ability and capacity obviously prerequisites for transition. 
Although the OPEDUCA Project originally did not intend to continue towards the integral change of schools, in practice it came to be regarded as a first-class innovation given its integral and coherent approach. On these pages we will gradually share characteristics and organisational aspects of an OPEDUCA-based School. When and how schools are considered to become involved in the course of the 2nd phase of OPEDUCA (2022-2025) will be communicated through the regular channels as well as on this page. Schools seeking information upfront are welcome to contact us.

Randomly selected, we present some examples from early practice.

School as Nexus of Learning
in their social-demographic region

Still considering the concept of 'school' as a most valuable meeting ground for education, an OPEDUCA-based School is positioned as a nexus of learning in regional society. An approach that does not depart from the educational system or organisational concept but most strictly from the students' learning processes. It is the implementation of the OPEDUCA-instruments that creates form, structure and operations. 

Already the implementation of OPEDUCA Flight for Knowledge will have a range of consequences, for one the physical structure will undergo a transformation; the well-known class-room set-up replaced by ‘Open Learning Spaces’ or transformed into larger, more college-hall like rooms that make it possible to address larger groups of students by 1 teacher on specific subjects and sub-themes of a Flight for Knowledge.

In OPEDUCA whole-class activities (visits, exchanges) are replaced by numerous Study-Teams searching for knowledge in the course of their thematic learning process. From the perspective of the school, time- and energy consuming project-weeks and other more mass-scale efforts to highlight an educational priority are no longer necessary. Means coming available can be ‘injected’ more specifically for the better good of the learning-process, raising both its efficiency and effectiveness.

Schools have become Christmas-trees

All too often schools over the years became a 'Christmas tree', full of baubles, bulbs and garlands for each and every priority they face and try to address - mostly being 'must do educations' and 'innovations' others came up with, pressed upon them by political and/or commercial initiatives. Schools are seen to address claims by creating (stand-alone) activities and projects on top of what they kept regarding as regular education. As a result, both the school as organisation and the educational process itself eventually suffer from numerous half-way integrated innovations and modernisations. A situation becoming the average teachers' biggest frustration (and educational consultants' prominent source of income).

Following the analogy of the Christmas tree, an OPEDUCA-based school is just a fresh, green tree with deep roots in the sound ground of culture, society and the environment, nourished by and breathing humanity, fully focussed on the student.

There is an important task for governments to free schools from the layers of policy priorities and commercial interventions by extinguishing the cacophony surrounding them - lessening the waves of change that erode a schools' own (transition) capacity. Whereas it is important to set schools free from forced buy-inns of assembled educations proofed, in general it is essential to curtail and even restrict external consultancy across the board. Such liberation will facilitate schools’ transition towards ESD-based Education, resulting in an upward spiralling series of coherent and interlocking improvements.

Leave Schools alone

It is advised to no longer burden schools with innovations; a fragile system can crack under pressure and unleash uncontrolled eruptions of change in order to comply. It is not wise to enforce rapid changes upon an inert system that is deeply rooted in tradition. There is no progress in putting schools under relentless pressure to change while on the other being demonised and trampled on as outdated, certainly when considering school leaders and teachers are no change-agents.

Local identity and relevance, a universal context, OPEDUCA as common ground to stand on.

As learning is a human and occurs always and everywhere, as it has through the ages of our development, the OPEDUCA-concept can be applied to any school, everywhere. For it is not a new 'method', 'project' or technical 'program' - it is a basis for the school, providing a common understanding and approach made applicable in daily practice by over 400 teachers in primary, secondary, further and higher education.
The concept and instrumentarium can be understood as common ground to build on whereas what grows from it is unique, celebrating local identity, name and flag. Merely the extend to which OPEDUCA can be applied to a specific school can (for the time being) be restricted by the experience and talents of teachers, present housing or access to internet - the appropriateness is however not effected by the context.

A full scale development obviously has considerable impact on every aspect of the organisation and its people. Experience shows that, whereas OPEDUCA comes natural to students, the transition is a substantial challenge for it requires and leads to a profound change compared to the present, demanding a professional management and dedicated teachers with the desire to re-invent their profession. To meet and develop what it takes to be(-come) an OPEDUCA-based school, practitioners developed a well balanced transition process from 'ist' to 'soll'. For The OPEDUCA Project is not just an innovation or modernisation, it's about implementing changes that work and improve the students' learning. 

Leaving the Patchwork of the Educational Landscape behind

The educational potential of a region appeared to be more scattered and at risk then eventually perceived. Metaphorically speaking, it is a ‘patched blanket’ where new ventures challenging the inertia of the system become interlocked with it or disappear altogether, patches torn loose mended in place by power structures in indiscriminate fashion. To bring all and everybody with potential value for youngsters’ development together, not only requires immense effort and persistence, but also contradicts with the societal fabric as it requires the de-patch of a blanket many stand on and live from. Moreover, since people change role and position, alter opinion, preferences, interests and reshape their disposition, the orchestration of a hornet’s nest to play Bach seems a walk in the park.
Continuing the analogy, the conceptual strength of the OPEDUCA-concept delivered a strong new yarn and sharp needle drenched in the potential of transition, therewith holding the promise to transform the societal patchwork to a coherent whole. Those seeking coherence and togetherness found a joint momentum led by vision. It was, however, a mistake to believe that also most prominently coloured patches, mainly those in the field of STEM and Environmental Education, would eventually develop along. Even though the benefits of a joint approach were acknowledged and remain undisputed until today, such proofed credulous. We had to acknowledge:

• some patches in the educational landscape are intended to be and remain so,
• several yarns appeared pervaded by personal interests (mostly funding- and job related),
• what seemed patches were actually holes in the landscape, only noticed when stepped on or scrutinised,
• the number and variety of patches grows due to a constant influx of new fabric and (re-)designs.

Although schooling requires a grade of governance and organisation that leads up to the manifestation of an institute commanding attention of its own, the educational system not only comprises rules, regulations, standards and facilities to enable schooling and organise education, but manifests itself as an institutionalised infrastructure of its own right. A vast landscape, home to the ‘layers of fog’, populated with actors and interests away from ‘educating’ and far from ‘learning’. And precisely there, at the base in the personal realm, is the home of ESD.

A Teachers' Image of an OPEDUCA-based School

To capture and integrate the OPEDUCA-concept, teachers and school leaders developed an image of an ESD-based School, emerging from their understanding of the concept, experience and practical insights. Since this sequence was also repeated during each of the 21 MasterClasses, an insightful and realistic perspective appeared, based on the expertise of over 400 school leaders and teachers.

Practitioners imagined an ESD-based School as an open structure, a cooperative of teachers learning with their students amidst society. They understood ‘School’ as a community-based nexus of learning, a ground where the learner interacts with a variety of sources and the contextualised transdisciplinary learning-process finds a home. A safe and central meeting place, an ‘AGORA’ where learning processes are facilitated, rest, cross-over and are enriched. It is the main location for education, the environment where students can learn by themselves, with fellow students, teachers and educators. From the school as nexus, a student’s learning process physically and virtually branches out in society, involving people and organisations from the outside to the realm of education. The entirety open to and continuously connected with the local as well as global community. The students are seen to learn anytime, with anybody, at any place and through any device, consistently studying life as it is and unfolds through the dimensions of ESD.

As premises, the school facilitates a multi-functional central meeting place, forums for mini-lectures, study rooms for up to 6 persons and larger thematic areas where learning-contents and -processes unfold in a material and virtual way. These are equipped with tools, materials, multi-media devises, stages, flexible seating and an extensive multi-media library on the theme. The central meeting place at the heart of the building is marked by serenity, a place where only expressions of art, history, news and student’s learning outcomes call for attention. A cantina and facilities for sports and contemplation are half out in the open, entangled in a garden-like landscape that offers space for each of the thematic areas, particularly Food(-production), Water, Energy-generation and a Construction-site.

A week in the life of the school is characterised by a series of (partly simultaneous) mini-lectures on specific topics in the morning hours, a substantial mid-day part for lunch, leisure and sports and as of then until late afternoon theme-based collaborative learning in the thematic-areas, freely accessible for OPEDCUA-certified educators representing Partners in Education. Study-Teams can roam and use the entire premises and go out in community after reverse-notification of an educator at the location to be visited.
One day a week no mini-lectures are scheduled while all other facilities are open and available for the students, whether as individual or in Study-Team constellation.
The entire (Fri-)day then also available for sports, culture and arts or any combination of all.
The entire school functions from early morning until early evening for the students, available for use during the evenings as well as in the weekends and holidays for the broader regional community.
An OPEDUCA-based school has no standard classes, project-weeks or stand-alone education-projects, nor does it use programs and activities offered by third parties.
All means available are infused to continuously improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the educational process. Overlooking the schoolyear there is one flow, no longer interrupted by examination-periods, study-weeks, field trips and alike disruptions.
The school as cooperative of professional teachers and educators amidst society is a highly autonomous organisation with specialist pedagogical understanding and disciplinary expertise on the highest level of secondary education. ‘Through teaching we learn’ is a lead motive, also referring to the teachers’ will and ability to develop oneself continuously and keep track with real world developments. For the students, teachers and educators are a continuous presence that models a love of learning (Lucas & Guy, 2013) as they provide both expert- and pedagogical guidance through questioning and appraisal, raise challenges and provide constructive feedback, being discreet enough to enable students to perform (cognitive activation).
The teachers are compelled and obliged to cooperate as a community of practice, as a team to serve the students’ learning, their occupation no longer isolated. They work collaboratively on the design of materials, the creation of relevant learning contexts, back each other up, reach out to and share external sources of education and jointly construct the narrative students need. The teacher is expected to be a skilled facilitator and inspired storyteller, capable of facilitating reflective conversations during the entire learning process with every student, irrespective of age.
The school supports a full-scale double-sided (merging theory and practice) initial Teacher Training program, also thereto involving a variety of educators from Partners in Education. Teacher-students work from day one on at school and gain experience in various sectors of society at least one day a week.

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